I was recently posed some questions by a player wanting some clarification on how some aspects of House of Cards function, which I was not only happy to answer, but to repost here for the edification of other interested persons. The questions and the answers were a bit lengthy, so I’ll sum up the most important parts below.
* The main question was on the idea of defending: to the player, it seemed useless because it was expending a card to prevent a hit, when the consequence of taking a hit is ostensibly to discard a card. The key distinction is this: if you just take the hit, you accept that you not only have to lose a card without any benefit from it, but you’re also accepting the narrative consequences of what the attacker was trying to do to you. That’s important: if you at least try to actively defend, you get to say “no” to what the attacker is asking of the narrative with regard to your character. Furthermore, by proactively defending, you take advantage of the fact that you get to draw whenever you play a card that’s on-suit. Tossing a Pentacles to resist physical damage is suit-appropriate, and would thus let you replace it, even if you have some annoying slashes in your trousers at the moment.
Similarly, this principle applies to effects that are non-lethal but affect your character’s integrity to act, such as being paralyzed. Your opponent is trying to declare something about your Bearer that you either accept by not playing a card, or countermand partly or wholly as per the resolution table. Cards are the currency of narrative control.
* To clarify what happens if you throw an “unsuccessful” defense, meaning your card is of lower value than the incoming effect, you compromise: the effect is partial or mitigated by the attempt to defend. Compare the final value on the resolution table to figure out what ultimately happens: if an incoming 9 is countered with a 4, the result would be as if the attacker threw a 5.
* There are some holdovers from prior rules tests that snuck in regarding hand management. Here’s how it should go:
— get a card back right away when it’s on suit
— get your hand back at the end of the scene if you acted in-character
— the “one card at the end of the scene” was meant to cover contiguous scenes where the characters don’t have downtime to regroup, but I could have made that clearer
* As for why lesser creatures of dream should be considered threats: lower-tier dream-creatures can use cards to resist the same as their more powerful counterparts, but they don’t really have a lot of cards to use to do so, which leads to encounters with them being rather self-contained… except that they almost always have Excorporate, which means they drift off as eir for the time being, but can end up reforming, and will probably hold a grudge. (Oh, and to clarify: Chimerae and such do take on physical form when they’re Here unless the specimen in question has a power to do otherwise.)
* Be careful about using a Greater Power in reaction to an incoming effect. Remember the rule at the top of 43: you get a Lesser and a mundane action or a Greater for your action. If you’ve taken either of the former, you’ve gone down that particular path until your next action comes up. Cooperation between Bearers is essential for that reason, and that’s precisely the rationale for the Greater Powers that directly aid other characters, like Shield of Venus.
* Cancelling persistent Greater Powers: if the Power doesn’t say how to negate it, it isn’t meant to be negated. Bearers have phenomenal magic, and they’re not meant to be brushed aside casually. A Comte or Castellan might have some kind of ability that can overcome a Power with a committed card by playing a more potent card of their own, but the idea is that Greater Powers in particular are about creating challenges in scenes that the other side has to creatively work around.
* On a similar note, unless a Power specifies a method of hand refill in the description, the normal rules governing hand management apply. If the Power doesn’t tell you to refresh, you don’t refresh, et cetera. Each Power has its particular tactical strengths and weaknesses with regard to the tempo of card play.
* Running out of cards is supposed to have an intermediary step, because playtesters were finding that it was too abrupt to be knocked down to 0 cards and just be immediately out of the action: page 55 is correct. Martyr’s Mystery shouldn’t require any alteration (it happens as soon as the last card is lost, regardless of what would come after); Black Banner, White Rose and Resurrection, though, kick in at the point of being forced to suffer the consequence of having to discard a card when you don’t have one, which means the next time you would have to take a hit after your hand is empty. Think of it as a ‘winded’ level between hand depletion and going down for good. Also, Reversal would happen at that same time: the Archetype turns its nature inside-out to give you that extra “phantom” card you don’t have to take the hit only at the moment you would have to have it.
* Castellans’ heart cards can be lost to damage, but are otherwise protected against the sorts of effects that manipulate a character’s hand: they hold onto those even if they have to discard everything else. You don’t make a Castellan lose their identity or powers by, say, making them discard.